Thursday, January 31, 2019

Be Safe on the Internet: Meet Steven Pruitt of Wiki fame

NSW must compromise on political ad limits

With less than two months before the NSW election, the High Court has torn up the rule book that will govern the political campaign.

Liberal Party 'ups the ante' as court win frees unions to unleash election war chest

A High Court decision to strike down laws capping election advertising spending has mobilised the state government and unions into action.

Nike faces recall demand as Muslims protest 'offensive' sneaker design - Allah 

“Wake In Fright”: Prepare to Be Disturbed, Mate | The New Yorker

TV Bingeing via Kevin Roberts

Ashurst Seminar Level 9 5 Martin Place - “The 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) released today by Transparency International reveals that the continued failure of most countries to significantly control corruption is contributing to a crisis of democracy around the world.
“With many democratic institutions under threat across the globe – often by leaders with authoritarian or populist tendencies – we need to do more to strengthen checks and balances and protect citizens’ rights,” said Patricia Moreira, Managing Director of Transparency International. “Corruption chips away at democracy to produce a vicious cycle, where corruption undermines democratic institutions and, in turn, weak institutions are less able to control corruption.”
The 2018 CPI draws on 13 surveys and expert assessments to measure public sector corruption in 180 countries and territories, giving each a score from zero (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean). To view the results, visit:

The Conversation
The unexplained detention of author and diplomat, Yang Hengjun, has raised more questions about the motives of a Chinese government under stress from within and – “Steven Pruitt has made nearly 3 million edits on Wikipedia and written 35,000 original articles. It’s earned him not only accolades but almost legendary status on the internet. The online encyclopedia now boasts more than 5.7 million articles in English and millions more translated into other languages – all written by online volunteers. Pruitt was named one of the most influential people on the internet by Time magazine in part because one-third of all English language articles on Wikipedia have been edited by Steven. An incredible feat, ignited by a fascination with his own history. Pruitt is deeply obsessed with history, and his love of opera inspired his Wikipedia username: Ser Amantio Di Nicolao, his favorite opera character.  
“My first article was about Peter Francisco, who was my great great great great great great grandfather … and if we had an hour I could probably go into the full story,” Pruitt said. “He was a sergeant in arms in the Virginia Senate and there’s kidnapping, potential piracy. If you read the story you would not believe any of it happened.” Still living with his parents in the home he grew up in, Pruitt has always remained true to his interests. “I think for a long time there was an attitude of, ‘That’s nice, dear. The boy’s crazy. I don’t know why he wastes his time, the boy’s crazy,'” Pruitt said of what his parents think of his volunteer gig. That may have changed when Time magazine named him one of the top 25 most influential people on the internet, alongside President Trump, J.K. Rowling and Kim Kardashian West…”

An open source checklist of resources designed to improve your online privacy and security. Check things off to keep track as you go. – Take 10 minutes to read this article and consider applying one or more of the suggestions. I did and the applications work really well.

I have been recommending one of the suggestions for years now – Use DuckDuckGo rather than Chrome. See:  Nothing Can Stop Google. DuckDuckGo Is Trying Anyway. “2019 may finally be the year for ‘The Search Engine That Doesn’t Track You’ “This, in a nutshell, is DuckDuckGo’s proposition: “The big tech companies are taking advantage of you by selling your data. We won’t.” In effect, it’s an anti-sales sales pitch. DuckDuckGo is perhaps the most prominent in a number of small but rapidly growing firms attempting to make it big — or at least sustainable — by putting their customers’ privacy and security first. And unlike the previous generation of privacy products, such as Tor or SecureDrop, these services are easy to use and intuitive, and their user bases aren’t exclusively composed of political activists, security researchers, and paranoiacs. The same day Weinberg and I spoke, DuckDuckGo’s search engine returned results for 33,626,258 queries — a new daily record for the company. Weinberg estimates that since 2014,DuckDuckGo’s traffic has been increasing at a rate of “about 50 percent a year,” a claim backed up by the company’s publicly available traffic data.”

LINES ON THE MIRROR, LINES ON HER FACE: Aging: Yes, Life in the Fast Lane Kills You.“There’s a cost to living; there’s a cost to doing everything. That cost depends on the speed at which we’re living, to some degree. If we are living our lives at a very fast rate, we tend to wear out sooner. There is a strong relationship between metabolic rate—the rate at which we’re taking in oxygen and burning up food—and lifespan.”

2020 misinformation ramps up

Think it’s too early to focus on the 2020 presidential campaign? The trolls apparently don’t.

For all we learned about misinformation in 2016, it’s already clear journalists and the public will need to be on guard early for bad actors spreading falsehoods about the candidates in the next campaign cycle.

They work fast, too. U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), for example, announced her exploratory bid for the White House on Dec. 31. In just three days, users on fringe platforms were posting smears aimed at undermining her campaign, according to a report by Storyful, a company that studies social media analytics. The report drew upon the Facebook API and Storyful’s social monitoring technology to isolate where posts including Warren’s name were being shared the most.

Among public Facebook pages, a top amplifier of hyperpartisan content about Warren was a page titled “Elizabeth Warren is batsh#t crazy,” said Kelly Jones, the researcher who produced the report.

Efforts to stir up discord on the American left were particularly prominent on fringe sites like 4chan. One poster called for people to “Pose as a concerned Democrat and criticize her for being white. Criticize her for being a woman. Do whatever it takes to further divide the left and prevent them from unifying behind a candidate for 2020.”

In late 2017, the American Press Institute published a report looking at how newsrooms were woefully unprepared to deal with misinformation on social media in 2016. The question is whether the early awareness of the problem will help this time around — especially given what we now know about how instrumental anonymous message boards like 4chan are in pushing false narratives online.

“Knowing it’s happening so early, and identifying the initial trends, sets the tone for what we could expect,” Jones said.

Similar efforts were seen after Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s (D-Hawaii) announcement of her 2020 plans, with users on 4chan and 8chan urging people to promote her in a gambit to divide the Democrats.  

The day after California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris announced her candidacy, pro-Donald Trump conspiracy theorist Jacob Wohl inaccurately tweeted to his nearly 180,000 followers that she’s not eligible to run for president because of foreign-born parents. PolitiFact (which is owned by Poynter) quickly assigned his statement a “Pants-on-Fire” rating.

And, by the way, that thing on Warren’s shelf in her kitchen as she was having a beer and doing a live Q&A on Instagram on New Year’s Eve? It’s a vase, not a piece of racist memorabilia.

(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

This is new

  • Almost half of Trump’s promises from the 2016 campaign have been blocked or dropped, according to PolitiFact. And The Washington Post Fact Checker putthe number of Trump’s falsehoods at 8,158 over the past two years.
  • WhatsApp is now limiting the number of groups to which users can forward messages from 20 to five in an effort to slow the spread of misinformation. The move comes after similar tests in India and Brazil.
  • NewsGuard, a startup that publishes media credibility scores, gave The Daily Mail the same grade as RT. Now Microsoft Edge users are receiving warnings, according to The Guardian.

The Bad Place

  • An Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is proving to be fertile ground for misinformation and conspiracy theories.
  • Deepfake porn videos depicting celebrities are increasingly becoming a threat to women online. Fortune posed the question: Do we need a law to stop them?
  • Now going viral on Facebook: Fake news stories that don’t actually link to anything.

(Screenshot from Twitter)

A closer look

  • Over the past few weeks, the #10yearchallenge has made the rounds on social media, inspiring users to post dramatic before and after pictures. And — just like nearly everything else on the internet — it was gamed to promote false and misleading images.
  • The Duke Reporters’ Lab is getting close to a product that would allow TV networks to live fact-check speeches or debates in the lead-up to the 2020 U.S. election.
  • Last week, activists distributed fake copies of The Washington Post in print and online. April Glaser wrote an excellent piece for Slate about why they didn’t qualifyas what most people think of as fake news.

Fact vs. Fake

It was a bad week for fact checks on Facebook. In the IFCN’s second installment of a weekly column that compares the reach of hoaxes to corresponding fact checks on the platform, Daniel found that one Brazilian hoax got about 250 times more engagements than two debunks — combined.

(Courtesy Akumbom Elvis McCarthy)

If you read one more thing

Last month, the Committee to Protect Journalists published its 2018 census of imprisoned journalists around the world — 28 of which were jailed on “false news” charges. This week, Daniel wrote about what it was like for two Cameroonian journalists to be tried on such charges.

10 quick fact-checking links

  1. The Guardian profiled American fact-checkers covering the Trump administration.
  2. Why do people fall for fake news? Gordon Pennycook and David Rand summarize the research for The New York Times.
  3. Brazilian fact-checker Aos Fatos launched a project that archives all of President Jair Bolsonaro’s tweets.
  4. Facebook removed more fake accounts, pages and Instagram profiles from Russia that were posing as news organizations and political interest pages.
  5. First Draft is hiring 12 people to work in its New York City and London offices.
  6. A massive network of Macedonian fake news sites has been dismantled following an investigation from Lead Stories and Nieuwscheckers.
  7. U.S. Lawmakers are paying attention to the problem of “deep fakes.”
  8. BuzzFeed News is hiring two contractors to help produce debunking videos.
  9. Remember that time U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) had a very public scuttle with fact-checkers? Us too. And this week she tweeted about it again.
  10. Add Glassdoor to the list of apps that is being gamed to push fake positive reviews.

via DanielSusan and Alexios

Dollar Risk to Facebook, Google: Story of 21st Century Blasphemy

Sydneysiders are being warned to prepare for one more day of scorching heat before a cool change brings relief from the hot temperatures tomorrow. The temperature is set to reach 38C in the city today, with it getting to 40C in Penrith and Richmond. A late gusty change is set to sweep through, easing hot temperatures.Tomorrow will be a lot cooler with a maximum temperature of 25C...
Exclusive: How frigid polar vortex blasts are connected to global warming PhysOrg

Today is your last chance to opt-out of the government's digital health record

Despite privacy concerns remaining, Thursday is the last day you can opt-out of the $2b My Health Record system.

The commission's report found river allotments were driven by politics and accused the basin authority board of maladministration over its disregard for science
Royal Commission

 South Australian Premier Steven Marshall described the report as "complex""That state of affairs exists today, and is the principal reason why there are serious doubts whether the current senior management, and board, of the MDBA are capable of fulfilling their statutory obligations and functions."

Murray Darling Basin Politics over Science

Russian senator arrested in Parliament in murder probe

Rauf Arashukov is accused of ordering two murders in 2010 in his home region of Karachayevo-Cherkessiya in Southern Russia.

Randwick Council urges halt to stadium demolition, rules out legal fight

Randwick City Council echoes concerns from two neighbouring councils about the controversial demolition of the Moore Park stadium.

Labor's 'putting people first', again

Insiders at Sussex Street tell us there was some concern about the repeated use, but those were promptly dismissed with a quip about forgetful voters.

Court’s Biometrics Ruling Poses Billion Dollar Risk to Facebook, Google

Fortune: “The Supreme Court of Illinois on Friday ruled that an amusement park, Six Flags Great America, must pay damages to a boy for collecting his thumbprint without proper consent. The decision in the closely-watched case opens the door for the possibility of huge payouts in related cases against technology companies whose face-scanning policies breached a state law known as the Biometric Information Privacy Act.

In the Six Flags case, a mother named Stacey Rosenbach filed a lawsuit upon learning the amusement park scanned and stored her son’s thumbprint as part of its annual pass program. The case soon became a key test of the law, known as BIPA. The crucial issue is whether a person must show they suffered actual harm when a company collects biometrics without permission, or if it’s enough just to show that the act took place. In a 7-0 ruling, the Illinois court agreed with Rosenbach that the purpose of the law, which provides for a $1,000 to $5,000 penalty, is to deter companies misusing consumers’ biometrics. This meant that Rosenbach’s son counts as an “aggrieved person” in the language of BIPA. This ruling comes as a blow for Google and Facebook, both of which are ensnared in BIPA lawsuits of their own…” 

Inside an Arab monarchy's secret hacking team of US mercenaries

Two weeks after leaving her position as an intelligence analyst for the US National Security Agency, Lori Stroud found herself in the Middle East.

While it’s fantastic that Asia Bibi’s legal ordeal is over, the forces, mindset and entrenched bigotry that went after her is still very much at large. There is still a long journey ahead.

Asia Bibi, a 47-year-old farm worker, was convicted of blasphemy against Islam in 2010, after an argument over whether she could share the same water glass as her Muslim co-workers.
She was sentenced to death by hanging, but the Supreme Court acquitted her on appeal in October last year.

Pakistani court dismisses petition against Christian's blasphemy acquittal

IS THERE ANYTHING IT CAN’T DO?  Coffee promotes DNA repair, which may be why it extends life.
Also, caffeine is a weak, nonspecific phosphodiesterase inhibitor.  PDE5 inhibitors,like Viagra and Cialis, seem likely to have significant life-extension and anti-cancerproperties. There are a lot of other PDE receptors whose function we don’t really know, though PDE4 inhibitors are now used to fight inflammatory diseases. And PDE inhibitors are being looked at for numerous other ailments.
So it’s possible that some of the mechanism is here, too. I’d like to see more research.

E-Day and the beauty parade: how two elections will hit the public service
VERONA BURGESS: Two of the nation's biggest elections could trigger another round of politically favoured musical chairs at the top of the public service.

Bullying remains high among Tasmanian public servants
WORKPLACE: A recent survey of 8675 state public servants returned a mixed bag of results suggesting workplace bullying, stress and struggles to maintain a good work-life balance are persistent issues.

Labor promises permanent jobs in regional Human Services hubs
DECENTRALISATION: The opposition has taken up the idea of decentralisation as a vehicle for regional development, but gone further than the government with a promise of 300 full-time Human Services jobs based in North Queensland.
Unchained: challenges ahead for soon-to-be-dismantled Uluru climb
NT: After years of negotiations, dismantling the climb still has a few hurdles yet.

Yet Another Muggy Night Sleepless In Sydney

Power restored after massive outage in eastern suburbs leaves thousands in the dark

About 45,000 customers in suburbs including Double Bay, Edgecliff and Bondi Junction lost power on Thursday morning.

Tasmanian Rosehaven rocks

Music, Feeling, and Transcendence: Nick Cave on AI, Awe, and the Splendor of Our Human Limitations

“What a great song makes us feel is a sense of awe… A sense of awe is almost exclusively predicated on our limitations as human beings. It is entirely to do with our audacity as humans to reach beyond our potential.”

French Philosopher Maurice Blanchot on Writing, the Dual Power of Language to Reveal and Conceal, and What It Really Means to See

“To see is certainly always to see at a distance, but by allowing distance to give back what it removes from us… To see is to experience the continuous and to celebrate the sun, that is, beyond the sun: the One.”

Blanchot considers what writing is and is not:

— To write is not to give speech to be seen. The game of common etymology makes of writing a cutting movement, a tear, a crisis.
— This is simply a reminder that the proper tool for writing was also proper for incising: the stylet.
— Yes, but this incisive reminder still evokes a cutting operation, if not a butchery: a kind of violence — the word flesh if found in the family, just as graphy is a scratch. Higher and further back, to write is to curve meet. Writing is the curve that the turn of seeking has already evoked for us and that we find in the bending of reflection.

Three decades after Virginia Woolf proclaimed in the only surviving recording of her voice that “words belong to each other,” Blanchot weighs the duality of language as a medium capable of both connection and separation:

— In each word, all words.
— Yet, speaking, like writing, engages us in a separating movement, an oscillating and vacillating departure.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Lesson From Congress: Overbearing Oversight?

When Russell Baker imagined his own death for The New York Times in 1979, it was because he’d just experienced something delightfully unsettling while taking a walk near his apartment on 58th Street. There he was, about to reenter the building, when something huge splatted on the sidewalk at his feet.
Once you start making money, writing becomes work and ceases to be fun, said Russell Baker, who died last week. But “when writing is fun, it’s not very good"... Dilemmas of Cold River

Terraces before towers: Sydneysiders want more medium-density housing

As debate rages over residential development in Sydney, new polling shows widespread support for more terraces and townhouses.

NSW Liberal MPs have heaped praise on Premier Gladys Berejiklian, as a new poll revealed minority government is on the cards at March's state election.

Ministers defend Gladys Berejiklian as Newspoll predicts NSW election to deliver minority government

Scott Morrison’s economic pitch straight from Fawlty Towers – just don’t mention the recession

Tax Administration in a Digital Age: The Australian experience - ATO

Speaker Second Commissioner Neil Olesen - UNSW Business School


Why paper maps still matter in the digital age The Conversation

Hartford - Expert opinion: transfer pricing not necessarily illegal activity

Reminder of Key Differences Between Civil Fraud Penalties 

I picked up an offering, with a good reminder for Tax Crimes enthusiasts, from Procedurally Taxing Blog's regular reporting of Tax Court designated orders.  Samantha Galvin (Guest Blogger), The Tax Court’s Tenacious Stance on 280E: Designated Orders 12/17/2018 – 12/21/2018 (Procedurally Taxing Blog 1/17/19), here.

D.C. Circuit Rejects Defendant's Post Conviction Claims of Selective Prosecution, Actual Innocence and Attorney Conflict

Court Applies Willful Blindness and Rejects Reliance on Friends Defense to FBAR Willful Penalty but Relieves Wife for One Year 

Lesson From Congress: Overbearing Oversight?

Senate_budget_committeeToday’s lesson comes from Congress.  It is a primer on IRS oversight.  It was prompted by an amazing letter I found buried on my desk.  

In an October 2015 hearing, House Ways and Means Committee member Diane Black questioned then IRS Commissioner John Koskinen about the lack of IRS responses to 10 GAO oversight recommendations from July 2015. 

On October 23, 2015, Koskinen sent her a letter.  The letter explained the status of the 10 oversight recommendations.  It then also explained the status of 200 additionalrecommendations from the prior three years, recommendations the IRS had also not responded to.  Of the 210 total, 167 had not yet reached their original due dates for responsive actions.  The other 43 were late but had received extensions from the oversight bodies who had made the recommendations: the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA). 

The number 210 is not the amazing part.  The amazing part is that the letter explained that during that same three-year period, the IRS has dealt with some 1,240 oversight recommendations just from GAO and TIGTA.  That number does not even include the myriad directives and orders from various Congressional oversight committees, nor the yearly Congressional-mandated oversight from the National Taxpayer Advocate.  Thinking about the FTE’s needed to address just these 1,240 recommendations makes me dizzy. 

Lesson From Congress: Overbearing Oversight?

Brexit and the future of tax havens

Facebook Graph Search Operators – Collated by Paul Myers

See also from the same author – How to use Facebook Graph Search – “Experienced researchers know that Facebook’s search box has very limited and unpredictable functionality. However, there are tricks that can be used to squeeze a better search out of the world’s most popular social network.


    The ATO has advised [ATO Presser] that a Manly man was on 25 January 2019 sentenced to 6 years' jail in the NSW District Court for GST fraud relating to illegal phoenix activity in the property and construction industry. He was also ordered to pay reparations of more than $1.8 million.

    The ATO said the man was convicted after an ATO investigation found he had structured his companies to fraudulently obtain GST credits and failed to report property sales to avoid paying GST, causing a loss to the Commonwealth of $3.4 million.

    Between 2008 and 2011, the ATO said the man lodged false BASs on behalf of 9 companies of which he became the sole director, using the money he obtained to fund the purchase of luxury items including a marina at Lake Macquarie, a catamaran and a unit to live in. The funds were also used to meet expenses incurred during the course of developing 5 beachfront luxury apartments in Manly, the ATO said.

    According to the ATO, the man reported his companies' expenditure was more than $24 million and claimed more than $2.2 million in GST refunds. To justify his GST refund claims, the man:

    1. created false invoices that showed related companies provided project management services

    2. produced fraudulent invoices for the purchase of high-value excavators, trailers, trucks and catamarans.

    He also failed to report the sales of the Manly apartments on which he should have paid GST of more than $1.5 million, the ATO said.

    ATO Assistant Commissioner Aislinn Walwyn said the case "exhibits classic illegal phoenix behaviour. Companies were deliberately liquidated to avoid paying creditors and taxes. New companies continued operating the same or a similar business with the same ownership."